Why is “Local” so Weird?

Have you got scurvy? Know the warning signs!

Please leave the ship.

My kids reallyreally like bananas and I am reallyreally glad about that.

As some of you know, we are greeny-greensters, so we grow our own veggie garden, make compost, and buy organic and local.

Well, sometimes.

If we started to apply the “locally-grown” condition to our food (250-mile radius), what would be have to give up that we really like?

Let’s see…

  • Bananas
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Pineapples
  • Citrus (scurvy alert!)
  • “Fresh” fruits and veggies during most of the year.

I am currently reading a book called “Little Heathens” by author Millie Armstrong Kalish, a Garrison, Iowa native who details exhaustively farm life during the Great Depression.

When I saw “exhaustively” I mean it. Literally 99 percent everything this family consumed fulfilled the 250-radius guideline (excepting occasional citrus fruits). This was in part because of frugality– they had to make/bake/grow/cook it themselves in order to afford it. But it was also because that was the way rural life proceeded.

Grow corn. Eat the corn. Save some kernels for next year’s crop. Dry the cobs.  Use the cobs for either a) fuel, b) feed for animals, or c) toilet paper.

Reading this book is wonderful, but makes you realize without complete certainty why the generation after the war — especially the homemakers– not only embraced all the modern conveniences (from cars and refrigerators to pre-packaged meals, and canned corn), they probably wanted to make love to them. Making-growing-herding-hunting-sewing is two to three full time jobs– days overflowing with never- ending work and no chance for a 2-week vacation in Branson.

This is not to diss the locally-grown movement. In fact, it is an argument FOR it. Learning from our “heritage experts” helps us to reconnect to the reality of food. As Millie Kalish points out in her chapter on “Farm Food”:

“I do feel the knowledge of how to fry potatoes, make a pie crust, and dress a chicken encourages self-sufficiency and creates a sense of confidence in one’s ability  to cope with life. Indeed I want my own family to be aware of the foods, the ingenuity, the knowledge, the skills, and above all, the everlasting work that was required to survive when resources and supplies were limited.”

So much of what we consume today (and here I’ll just limit to what we put in our mouths) we do mindlessly, without a thought of the work it takes to grow, make or — in the case of bananas — to move it.

So I would argue that “local” is weird for most of us. It stops us from eating mindlessly, the way we have for years. It forces us think about who we are, to look at what we are made of, and to ask this question: what do I intend to invest in this ONLY thing I have control over– my body?

Millie Kalish, 88 years old and writing books, still splits and stacks her own firewood. In this era of techno-growth and obsolescence,  where kids are likely to live SHORTER lives than us, what does that tell you about the local food movement, the need to reject convenience and to feel a part of home life again?

Bananas, hold on.  Apples want to reclaim their place in the sun.

  3 comments for “Why is “Local” so Weird?

  1. Colin
    June 4, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    Personally I would rather spend a month plucking chickens and hand washing my laundry than spend 2 weeks in Branson.

  2. Karin
    June 11, 2010 at 6:08 am

    Excellent post and excellent points – have you read Pollan’s work yet?

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